Thomas Campbell, former Met director, sizes up challenges for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

“Im looking at the strengths of our collection and the identity of the two museums”: Thomas Campbell says connoisseurship will be a priority in San Francisco Gary Sexton

When Thomas Campbell took the job of director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF)—in effect trading places with Max Hollein, who took his former job leading the Metropolitan Museum of Art after Campbells ousting—he faced some big challenges beyond rebuilding art-world trust in his leadership skills.

Most urgently, the exhibition programme had only been planned for the next six months. He worked to borrow shows, such as the Tates Soul of a Nation for this season and the V&As Frida Kahlo show for next, while backing two exhibitions organised in-house by the contemporary art curator Claudia Schmuckli: an AI (artificial intelligence) show opening in February and a Judy Chicago retrospective this summer.

But now, more than a year into the job, Campbell is also taking time to assess the museums underlying needs, presenting a six-year management plan to the board on 14 January. He revealed key details of the plan in an extensive interview with The Art Newspaper, identifying the main priorities for the FAMSF (which comprises the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor) as “clarifying the identity of its two institutions”, building “community and scholarly engagement” and creating the fiscal and digital infrastructure to make this happen.

“Were hitting the 125th anniversary of the de Young in April and the 100th anniversary of the Legion in 2024, so its a good time to examine where weve come from, who we are, and what our priorities are,” he says. “Im prioritising being an institution of thought leadership, audience engagement and connoisseurship, for example.”

Phillip Lindsay Masons Maiden Voyage (around 1969), on view in Soul of a Nation at the de Young Museum © Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In search of stability

If these goals sound fairly basic for any major art museum, in a way they are. While the FAMSF is a large institution with two locations, a collection ranging from ancient textiles to contemporary art, 330 full-time employees and around 1.4m visitors annually, it has been anything but stable. It has had four directors in the past decade and relies on a limited funding stream, receiving $17m of its $62m yearly budget from the city, $3.5m from endowment income and the rest from ticket and retail sales, memberships and donations.

And now that the influential art patron Dede Wilsey has relinquished her position as board president, with the 42-year-old hedge fund manager Jason Moment assuming the post, it is unclear who might become the museums lead fundraiser.

Campbell frames the financial challenges as structural and not specific to Wilsey, who remains a trustee. “The long and short of it is, we dont have a steady income stream from an endowment that gives us any long-term stability,” he says, noting that the operating endowment is around $70m, with a separate acquisition endowment of $68m.

Others say that the board, packed with friends of Wilsey, is still problematic. While across town the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art board boasts many high-profile art collectors in the area, few FAMSF board members are even known as art patrons.

“They really need a more ambitious and diverse board—more people in technology, because thats such a huge economic driver in this city, and more passionate supporters of the arts,” says the San Francisco art dealer Todd Hosfelt. “The board isnt full of people who love art.” What is more, the FAMSF trustees are not required to pay annual board dues, which Hosfelt calls “a huge problem” considering that one of their duties is to work their networks. “How can you ask friends to donate money if you arent doing it yourself?”

Change is difficult, and you need to take time to build support for it. Thomas Campbell

Of course, there is always the elusive promise that Silicon Valley billionaires will step up their support of cultural philanthropy. “Were all looking for the silver bullet, and all following similar approaches I think,” says Campbell. He describes “a series of discussions and networking sessions” that will accompany Uncanny Valley, Schmucklis AI show, and a younger, revamped gala, now called On the Edge, led by Moment and his wife. “Were also cultivating board members like David Wadhwani and Juliet de Baubigny, who are involved with the tech community,” he adds.

Recruitment drive

On other fronts, Campbell has initiated a free Saturdays programme for Bay Area residents to attract more low- income visitors and families. He is also bolstering the curatorial ranks, with searches under way to fill two positions: the head of European paintings and a curator of drawings andRead More – Source